New Sri Lankan army chief faces charges of human rights violations, says U.S.

Published : Aug 19, 2019 18:20 IST

Shavendra Silva (centre), when he was Brigadier of the 58 Division, in 2009.

Shavendra Silva (centre), when he was Brigadier of the 58 Division, in 2009.

Soon after the Sri Lankan government announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva as Army Commander on August 19 afternoon, the United States expressed its concern over the development. Gen. Silva has been charged with major human rights violations in the last stages of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva as Army Commander. The allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organisations, are serious and credible. This appointment undermines Sri Lanka’s international reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount,” a statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Colombo said.

In fact, the U.S. objection was the main hurdle for Gen. Silva to be appointed to the post, and his predecessor retired without the government naming a successor. This is perhaps for the first time that such an incident has taken place in Sri Lanka.

After much dilly-dallying, President Maithripala Sirisena decided to announce his name on August 19, brushing aside U.S. objections. India had not taken a stand on the issue but is unlikely to have a problem with Gen. Silva as Army Commander. Newspaper reports said that even Sirisena’s party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, was not united on the issue of the appointment.

Gen. Silva, one of the blue-eyed boys of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was fast-tracked to command positions in the field and helmed the 58 Division, which was named in United Nations Report for human rights violations. Gen. Silva was sent as Permanent Representative at the United Nations after the war. On his return after this posting, he was appointed Adjutant General. In January 2019, he took over as Chief of Staff at the Army headquarters.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been announced as the presidential candidate by the Sri Lanka Podujana Party.

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